Diversity in Cricket?

Posted on April 5, 2014

Howzat for Cricket?
One of Australia’s most popular sports, Cricket can certainly draw a crowd.  The Boxing Day test consistently achieves sell-out status at the immense MCG arena.  While other sports enjoy an annual day in the sun too, Australian cricket is unique in its level of interest, match attendance and sport participation.

That’s interesting because shifting migration trends have dramatically changed the cultural composition of Australia’s population.  So is it fair to describe Australian cricket (as some commentators have) as stale, pale and male?

Who’s up for cricket?
In its 2008 study, Melbourne based sports research consultants1 found cricket was Australia’s 3rd most popular sport.  Findings weighted by age and gender (to accurately reflect location) show 53% of adults have an interest in the sport.  Across the decades there are quite even results that perhaps seem surprising if the game is just a stale old relic of British colonialism.

In fact, cricket is actively played at all levels across Australasia, England & Wales, the West Indies, Southern Africa and the Indian subcontinent.  Even Canada, the Netherlands, Kenya, Ireland, Scotland and Afghanistan are qualified to play short forms of the game at international level.

And there are an additional 31 Associate and 60 Affiliate members recognised by the International Cricket Council.  Matches are contested in an ever-increasing range of formats and some sources rank the sport second globally for popularity, with 2-3 billion fans.

In Australia, well over half a million men, women and children participate in cricket competitions and programs3.  But where cricket eclipses all other sports is in India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

Holding up the mirror
While the 2008 paper found cricket has the highest participation level of any team sport, at elite level, Australian teams are a poor reflection of its population.

In its 2007 paper3, OriginsInfo used Origins name analysis to quantify Australia’s over-18 sub-continental population at 1.2% of the overall total.  At the time, this group was yet to be represented at the elite level of Australian cricket.

More recent figures emphasise the growth rates of Australian adults with backgrounds from South Asia’s leading cricket nations.  This is how Origins data shows people of these cultural backgrounds are immersed in the total population, including the growth of each group between 2008 and 2013:

2008 2013 Growth 2008-2013
India 142,006 259,199 82.5%
Sri Lanka 35,843 55,331 54.4%
Pakistan 33,288 54,972 65.1%
Bangladesh 4,981 17,176 244.8%
Australia 12,675,625 16,973,024 33.9%

Source: OriginsInfo, Australian Master Files, 2008 & 2013

The Indian sub-continent ranks a close third overall as birthplace of Australian migrants.  But in its 100+ year history, Australia’s test cricket team has only ever included one player of this cultural origin.  Selected in 2011, Usman Khawaja became Australia’s first Muslim and first Pakistani-born test player.  There have been none since.  Even Pakistani-born asylum-seeker, Fawad Ahmed, has yet to wear a baggy green.

The sub-continent is making up an increasing proportion of Australia’s adult population:

2008 2013
India 1.21% 1.53%
Sri Lanka 0.28% 0.33%
Pakistan 0.26% 0.32%
Bangladesh 0.04% 0.10%

Source: OriginsInfo, Australian Master Files, 2008 & 2013

In general, Australian first class cricketers have a strong Anglo-Celtic/Western European profile.  Origins 2007 paper found just three state-contracted players outside this group.

Diversity & gender
Cricket Australia says: ‘The long term future of the game is dependent upon embracing all people irrespective of their age, gender, race, religion or ability’.

Since the new century, the Australian Human Rights Commission notes the organisation has made efforts to encourage wider participation in the game of cricket.  Cricket Australia became an official Harmony Day partner in 2006 and is active in promoting the sport amongst people of all backgrounds, age and ability.

A focus on developing participation by women and players of diverse cultural origin seems consistent with Australia’s dynamic and exciting multi-cultural population.

So is Australia cricket pale, stale and male?  You be the umpire.

1 Sweeney Sports – Summer Sports Report, 2008
2 Australian Human Rights Commission – What’s the Score-Cricket, 2012
3 OriginsInfo (Michael Dove) – Cultural Diversity in Selected Australian Sports, 2007

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